by Gov. Jane Dee Hull
This is the year to improve learning in Arizona. Last year, the Legislature and I finally resolved the school construction problem by passing Students FIRST. This year, my agenda is very simple: improve the learning that occurs in Arizona's classrooms.
Education is my top priority because the people tell me again and again that education is their top priority. When I travel across the state, parents tell me about their concerns for their local schools. As you read the news, you see survey after survey reporting the public's concern about schools, basic skills and preparing students for the future. A recent ASU poll found twice as many people favor increasing education funding over cutting taxes. My budget proposal calls for both education funding and tax cutting.
Unfortunately, as a fast-growth state, Arizona has seemed to lag behind in funding schools. Education Week recently ranked Arizona 48th out of the 50 states in education resources. While no one wants to throw money at a problem, we must give our schools the resources they need to do their job.
The Hull Education Plan is simple:
• Reading by third grade
• Improved teaching training
• Charter school accountability
• Strict academic standards enforced by the AIMS test
- More, not fewer, resources for the classroom
Since there is never enough money to do everything, we must target the programs that warrant additional money. We want the maximum return on our investment. That's why reading is my first goal. Our schools must ensure that every child can read and write by the end of the third grade.
If there is one subject that warrants additional funding, it is reading instruction in the early years. Reading is the foundation on which all further learning builds. A child must know how to read in order to benefit from any further educational experiences. And we know that without good reading skills, children fall behind and often drop out.
It also goes without saying that we must help teachers do the best job they can. That is why I propose $2 million for the Center for K-12 Instruction at Northern Arizona University. This new center will train and re-train our hard-working teachers.
Arizona already has benefited from our charter schools. They offer innovation and variety for our public school students. But this year we must correct some of the loopholes we now know exist in the charter school law. We will tighten these regulations while continuing to encourage new ideas.
Finally, I want to make sure the public's mandate for improved education is implemented by the Legislature. This is not the year to cut school funding, nor is it time to cut university funding or resources for cities that pay police and fire fighters.
There is enough money to fund these proposals and still balance the budget as required by the state constitution. Arizona is experiencing its sixth straight year of an economic upturn and our revenues remain healthy and strong. There is no budget crisis this year.
It is true that we are beginning to implement Students FIRST in this budget cycle. The state has assumed the cost of building schools, which will be a terrific property tax cut for all Arizonans over time. I know we will use the appropriate mechanism needed to finance my education initiatives and other important state programs while meeting our commitment under Students FIRST.
My priorities are clear. This is the year to improve education. I will not accept cuts in education funding. Going backwards by giving schools less is unacceptable. We must go forward and make our schools the top-notch facilities our children deserve.